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California synagogue shooter pleads guilty to deadly 2019 attack

John Earnest killed Lori Gilbert-Kaye; under plea bargain, he will serve the rest of his life in state prison without possibility of parole

Poway synagogue shooting suspect John Earnest during a preliminary hearing in Superior Court in San Diego, on September 19, 2019. (John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP, Pool)
Poway synagogue shooting suspect John Earnest during a preliminary hearing in Superior Court in San Diego, on September 19, 2019. (John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP, Pool)

SAN DIEGO — A 22-year-old former nursing student pleaded guilty on Tuesday to murder and other charges, in connection with a deadly shooting at a Southern California synagogue on the last day of Passover in 2019.

John T. Earnest avoided the death penalty with his plea in San Diego Superior Court. The San Diego County district attorney’s office said he agreed to serve the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. Sentencing is scheduled for September 30.

Earnest opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle during the last day of Passover services in April 2019 at Chabad of Poway. The attack killed 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye and wounded three others, including an 8-year-old girl and the rabbi, who lost a finger.

Earnest then called 911 to say he had shot up a synagogue because Jews were trying to “destroy all white people,” authorities said.

Earnest faces similar charges in federal court, where federal prosecutors faced a deadline of August 30 on whether to pursue the death penalty. His next appearance in federal court is September 30. The Unites States attorney’s office in San Diego did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earnest submitted a conditional plea agreement for consideration by federal prosecutors on June 4, the San Diego County district attorney’s office said.

In this April 28, 2019 file photo, a San Diego county sheriff’s deputy stands in front of the Poway Chabad Synagogue in Poway, California, following a shooting that left one woman dead and wounded three others. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

The district attorney said it consulted the Kaye family and other victims before agreeing to the deal, aware that a possible plea arrangement in the federal prosecution would prevent the state’s case from moving forward.

Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who was killed in a shooting at a San Diego County synagogue on April 27, 2019 (Facebook)

“While we reserved the option of trying this as a death penalty case, life in prison without the possibility of parole for the defendant is an appropriate resolution to this violent hate crime and we hope it brings a measure of justice and closure to the victims, their families, friends and the wider community,” the office said. “This plea ensures the defendant is held accountable for his crimes under California state law.”

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